This OpEd by Richard M. Evans in several papers in Massachusetts says it right.
Don’t look now, but the resounding two-to-one victory of Question 2, the marijuana decriminalization initiative, may well turn out to be a blessing to Gov. Deval Patrick and the legislature as they face the current fiscal reckoning.
It’s not that the new law will save a lot of money – the proponents claimed around $30 million, but even that will not make a big difference. What makes a big difference is that for the first time, voters statewide have gone on record as supporting drug policy reform, providing the first opportunity in decades to rethink the laws that have flooded our courts, packed our prisons and strained our treasuries. [emphasis added]
And it continues flawlessly.
Ronald Reagan, naturally, said it clearly: “Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.” Purging the criminal justice system of people we are protecting from themselves could free up hundreds of millions in criminal justice and incarceration savings, without threatening the public safety.
Hopefully leaders will now emerge, not only in politics, but in the media, education, and certainly in law enforcement to guide a new public discussion of this thorny but necessary topic. A good place to start is with some crucial questions that, until the Question 2 vote, few were ready to confront:
- Is it realistic to think that continuing to pour vast resources into detection, enforcement, prosecution and punishment, we will ever achieve success in the struggle against illegal drugs?
- When we are “successful,” how many more people will be locked up, and at what cost to taxpayers?
- Where, exactly, is the line between abhorrent conduct we punish and abhorrent conduct we tolerate?
- Does it make sense to conflate the concepts of drug use, drug abuse and drug addiction?
For decades, few politicians have dared to criticize the laws lest they be branded “soft on drugs” in the next election. But in an era of evaporating public resources, the question is no longer whether drug offenders deserve our scorn, but whether they deserve our hospitality at $43,000 per year.
Billions have been spent in a mighty effort to fight and condemn drugs. Question 2 may well provide an historic opportunity to come to terms with them.